Almost 600 crowd into gymnasium to settle the matter

Camden, Rockport voters approve middle school financing package

Posted:  Monday, June 11, 2018 - 10:15pm
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CAMDEN — Neither Camden nor Rockport has had quite the meeting turnout in many years as what the public school district drew on Monday evening. Almost 600 young and old residents poured through the Camden-Rockport Middle School gym doors to cast their vote on a revised middle school construction financing package for School Administrative District 28, and when all the ballots were counted, the measure had been approved, 409 to 159. 

Watch the meeting at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4UbiFH048Ic

Of the attending public, approximately 200 voters were from Rockport while the majority represented Camden. In addition, there were babies and children, out-of-towners and reporters, who did not vote.

Camden and Rockport citizens fund SAD 28, which comprises the K-8 public schools in both towns.

On June 11, voters had been called to a special district meeting to consider a warrant article that, if approved, would ensure the new middle school project to proceed to construction phase. 

The project had been approved in June 2017 when voters approved borrowing $25.2 million for the $26.2 million project. By Spring 2018, architectural plans for the new 84,000-square-foot school were being finalized and a request for construction bids had been circulated.

On May 16, however, SAD 28 opened the two construction bids  and learned that building costs exceeded what was planned by at least 26 percent. While the construction budget for the new school had been set at $22.3 million, the lowest bid exceeded that by $5.8 million.

A series of emergency meetings ensued and a alternative funding package was assembled, culminating June 11 with the warrant article proposing to transfer money within the district’s budget to cover construction costs. The warrant article also asked voters to secure a bond premium, or issue new bonds, of up to $3 million to help cover the gap. Additionally, the district said it would make up to $2.8 million in value engineering cuts and modifications to the design.

It was a proposal not without controversy, with Camden and Rockport citizens questioning the cost, as well as the haste by which the additional borrowing and internal budgetary transfers had been formulated.

Making it more significant is the fact that the cost of the entire project rests on the shoulders of local taxpayers. There is no financial assistance from the state of Maine, and Camden and Rockport will be funding the project for 21 years, until the bond is paid off.

Two fiscal factors also remain up in the air, which preclude SAD 28 knowing more firmly what the final costs will be for the taxpayer: 1) the interest rate on the bond, which will determine how much taxpayers will pay each year on borrowing $25.2 million or more; and 2) to what extent, financially, the district will trim from the school design.

The district has been advised by Ledgwood Construction not to value-engineer by more than 10 percent, or $2.8 million.

While some citizens had asked the school board to slow down the process, or even halt it; others said that waiting would only increase overall construction and material costs. Those conflicting sentiments surfaced in conversations, public meetings, in letters to editors and opinion pieces, and on social media.

The issue engendered strong opinions, which, in turn, drew many citizens to the gym June 11, ready to vote.

The meeting had been scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., but the line outside snaked down Knowlton Street, as voters waited patiently to register one by one with their respective town clerks. By 6:50, the citizens were still filtering through the door, but the meeting was called to order with the election of Moderator Bob Duke, a Rockport resident.

“Good evening folks,” he said, speaking to a crowd that spilled over the bleachers, onto folding chairs, and then the floor.  “It is nice we could all get together.”

Superintendent Maria Libby had delivered her remarks about the proposed funding package, using PowerPoint slides to encapsulate her points.

She said SAD 28 had already spent $1 million to date on getting the middle school project to the point of construction. The goal was to begin site work this summer, and have the new school finished by September 2020.

She reported that the district’s bond adviser, Joe Coutera, told her June 11 that interest rates on the bond would possibly be 3 to 3.38 percent.

Libby also said Oak Point Associate architects and Ledgewood Construction personnel had begin a value-engineering process. Such outcomes might include, she said, substituting constructing materials, such as installing a drywall ceiling instead of a wood ceiling. 

Value engineering prospects also include moving mechanical systems to the roof of the school, instead of relegating them to an interior space. Libby said that is an aesthetic feature.

Other possible cost reductions include leaving the playing fields as is. The fields are, she said, “notoriously soggy.”

And, the district may assume its own demolition of the existing school buildings, as opposed to hiring contractors for the job.

In the end, a handful of citizens asked questions of the board and Libby. Those questions ranged in topic from security features (the new school will have a locked entry and visitors will be buzzed in; teachers will have swipe keys; and the glass will be deflect bullets) to environmentally sound and sustainable features (LED lighting will be installed; the windows will have high RV values; the building is to be oriented to the south for solar gain; and the district will continue to look at heating the building with sewer thermal water pumped over from the town’s sewer treatment facility).

But the majority of the crowd did not want to spend more time talking about the new middle school, and there was applause when Camden resident Nancy Hughes asked the moderator to call the vote.

That was followed swiftly by 568 voters standing up and casting their blue paper ballots into various cardboard boxes on hand.

Then, the town officials counted the ballots while the SAD 28 school board moved to the cafeteria to convene a regularly scheduled meeting.

After approximately 15 minutes, Moderator Duke announced the voting results to a greatly diminished roomful of people, and the special meeting quickly adjourned.

 

 

 

 ARTICLE 1A: ARTICLE 1:

To elect a moderator to preside at the meeting.

In addition to the Current Funding Sources for the New Camden Rockport Middle School Project (the “Project”) identified below, shall the District:

  1. (a)  Appropriate $400,000 from Capital Reserve Fund balances for the Project; and
  2. (b)  Authorize the School Board to make additional fund transfers of up to $1,484,248 to the Capital Reserve Fund for the Project as described below, and appropriate those transferred funds for the Project; and
  3. (c)  Authorize the School Board to accept and use bond premium in the amount of up to $3,000,000 for Project construction costs (in addition to premium for issuance costs described below) and, to the extent the Board does not accept or receive such $3,000,000 bond premium, to issue additional Project bonds, and appropriate those bond premiums and/or additional bond proceeds for the Project?

Current Funding Sources

 

Amount

 

School Construction Bonds (referendum on June 13, 2017)

$25,200,000

Capital Reserve Fund (budget meeting on May 22, 2018)

 

$1,100,000

 

Bond premium to pay issuance costs (estimated)

$120,000

Investment earnings on Bond proceeds (estimated)

 

$450,000

Total of Current Funding Sources

$26,870,000

   

Additional Funding Sources if this Article is Approved

Amount

Capital Reserve Fund balances

$400,000

Fund Transfers to the Capital Reserve Fund, as follows: $1,323,748 from 2018-2019 operating budget allocation $60,500 from the Gym Floor Account (insurance proceeds) Up to $100,000 from unallocated balances

$1,484,248

Bond Premium for Construction Costs (and/or Additional Bonds)

$3,000,000

Total of Additional Funding Sources, if Approved

$4,884,248

 

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Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657